Europe – Part 9

Countdown: Top 5 Places & Why

#1: London

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Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace

“It’s important that God often saves us from ourselves.”
– Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom,
Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen,
Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith

 

At the end of travelling Europe for 5 weeks I had the opportunity to conquer London in one week. I stayed with long-time family friends who graciously opened there “flat” for me, right in the heart of downtown London (it was only a 10 minute walk to Buckingham Palace.) In that week I was able to see more than 25 of London’s top sites.

Here are but some of the highlights:

 

  • Big Ben & Westminster Bridge – crossing this famous bridge is an experience: one way will bring you to Big Ben and the Parliament buildings, the other way gives you access to the London Eye & if you stand in the middle of the bridge on the sidewalk you will have an uninhibited view of the River Thames
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  • London Eye – a huge, enclosed ferris wheel with a 360 degree view out the cabin windows, with a wooden circular platform to sit on if you don’t want to stand; got to see the city from above on a very clear day
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  • St. Paul’s Cathedral – an enormous, majestic cathedral with very high ceilings. I could literally sense and feel the presence of God in this place; walked the winding staircases up to the 3 galleries: Whispering Gallery (257 steps up); Stone Gallery (376 steps up), & the Golden Gallery (528 steps up). From outside the top gallery, I could see the city for miles with the River Thames meandering through it. The crypt, or basement, stores the burial grounds of some of London’s most famous people, including the likes of: Lord Nelson, Sir Christopher Wren ( the architect of St Paul’s), & Lord Wellington
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  • River Thames – went on a boat cruise on this well-recognized river. The vessel took us from the London Eye to Tower Bridge, and back again, stopping to see the Tower of London. It is an eye-opening experience, as on either side of the Thames there are famous buildings, landmarks and monuments, not to mention passing under the many bridges that London affords
  • Trooping of the Colors – is an annual ceremony celebrating the official birthday of the British monarch. This tradition, since 1748, is also referred to as “The Queen’s Birthday Parade”. Essentially, each year on a Saturday in June, the Queen rides her royal carriage from Buckingham Palace down The Mall and back again, & leads the Royal Family out on the royal balcony of the palace for the grand finale of the Royal Air Force flypast
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  • Trafalgar Square – an enormous, wide-open square that has 2 large fountains with very blue water, huge lion statues that greet you at the entrance, with the Canada House right next to the square, and of course Lord Nelson’s column, an Olympic digital timer on site counting down the number of days until the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, & culminates with the National Gallery standing at the pinnacle of the square
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  • Metropolitan Tabernacle – this is the actual Reformed Baptist church where the world-famous, highly-accomplished, and well-loved Charles Haddon Spurgeon held his pastorate and led his congregation from the pulpit. For 38 years Spurgeon pastored this church and under his ministry tens of thousands were converted to God under the preaching of the Word. In its day, it seated 5,000 people and was by all accounts & standards, a megachurch. Spurgeon was enormously productive during his lifetime as John Piper has said, “I think the word “indefatigable” was created for people like Charles Spurgeon”, and his influence was such that Mark Driscoll says he is “[t]he greatest Bible preacher outside of Scripture.” Located at Elephant and Castle, I got to attend a Sunday evening service and had the tremendous honor of walking through the very church where Charles Spurgeon preached in & where God worked mightily through this one particular man. 

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Spurgeon & I (below)

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  • Westminster Abbey – during my tour of this famous Gothic church, I noticed it has fascinating side rooms loaded with tons of history and containing the “who’s-who” of British history. It houses the grave sites of prominent people, such as: Sir Isaac Newton, Handel, William Wilberforce, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth I of England, to name a few. Also notable, the last thing you see before leaving the Abbey is Winston Churchill’s memorial (his memorial service was at St. Paul’s Cathedral & he is buried in Bladon churchyard.)
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  • Tower of London – had a fun time checking out the Crown Jewels and other nifty war weapons (though I was a little disappointed there weren’t any demonstrations being offered.) The grounds were cool to explore and were sloped up from the banks of the River Thames. It was a really cool experience being inside this humongous and well-kept castle.
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  • Tower Bridge – a perfectly symmetrical, war-like bridge that hinges in the middle to allow large boats and vessel carriers to pass through & is located on the River Thames, right after the Tower of London
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  • Churchill War Rooms – a fascinating history crash-course of Churchill’s involvement during WWII. This was the very place (bunker) where Churchill set up camp & commanded the British government from during the war. I got to see Winston’s private quarters (where he slept and ate his dinners) & saw the attached museum for more learning about this highly influential 20th century giant.
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  • Covent Garden, Leiscester Square, Piccidilly Circus, Regent Street & Oxford Street – each of these sites are all interconnected and I couldn’t believe how short a distance it is to walk through each of them
  • City bus tour – went on double-decker bus & sat on top deck with the open-air and took in a scenic and educational ’round-trip of this beautiful city of London
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  • Theatre show – went to see a great performance of “Billy Elliott” in the West End theatre, Victoria Palace
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  • Windsor Castle – as the oldest working castle in the world, it has been said this is the Queen’s preferred residence as she is away from the busyness of London life and her administrative duties. It has very large grounds with lots to walk around and see & is located about an hour drive directly west of London, in the suburbs.IMG_7784
  • The Queen – really enjoyed learning more about the royal family and the Queen herself. The timing was perfect as I was able to take part in celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, as she has ruled for 60 years in 2012 as the British monarch (2nd only in length to her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria who reigned for 63 years and seven months.) I had the privilege of seeing the Queen on two occasions, one at Buckingham Palace, and the other at Windsor Castle.
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London Quotes:

“Mind the gap.” – London Underground (AKA: “the Tube”)

“This is London.” – Edmund H. North

“London, thou art the flower of Cities all.”
– William Dunbar, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 18th Edition

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” – Samuel Johnson, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 18th Edition

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Making a friend at Windsor Castle

“The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.”
– Oscar Wilde

“It is not the walls that make the city, but the people who live within them. The walls of London may be battered, but the spirit of the Londoner stands resolute and undismayed.” – George VI

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Front entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral

“The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.”
– Samuel Johnson

“I’ve been walking about London for the last thirty years, and I find something fresh in it every day.” – Walter Besant

“The streets of London are paved with Gold.” – Proverb

“The world can never be in the state of right order, strong government, and good influence unless London is truly and literally established as its capital.” – Kedar Joshi

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City view from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral

“America is a nation with no truly national city, no Paris, no Rome, no London, no city which is at once the social center, the political capital, and the financial hub.”
– C. Wright Mills

“Ambition is contagious. Be driven.” – London billboard

“I try not to take myself so seriously.” – Her Majesty The Queen, Elizabeth II

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Europe – Part 8

Countdown: Top 5 Places & Why

#2: Croatia

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Dubrovnik main street

“[Dubrovnik is] the pearl of the Adriatic.” – George Bernard Shaw

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Dubrovnik city walls looking out towards the Mediterranean Sea


We visited 3 Croatian cities: Dubrovnik, Split & Zadok. Of these, Dubrovnik was my favorite and spent the most time there.

  • Dubrovnik
    – Famous for its red-lined rooftops and fortified walled city, with the main square contained within (AKA: “Old Town”)
    – Had a super fun time exploring city interiors & adventuring its many side streets (and getting lost)
    – Very impressed with how clean and shiny the streets were, considering the city has no roof
    – Spectacular views of the ocean and the waves crashing mightily on the rocks on both ends
    – Adventurous time walking the walls around the top of the city (took 50 minutes and beat the minimum time by 10 min)
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  • Split
    – Quick stop but managed to snag a pix with a Dalmatian dog & win the proverbial tour competition
    – Split is the largest Dalmatian country from where the famed dog received its name
  • Zadar
    – Walked along ocean front and listened to “Sea organ”, where waves crash against marble steps and plays music from holes ingrained in stair steps (is really relaxing to listen to, especially with the sweet ocean view before your eyes)

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Mediteranean Sea backdrop in Zadar, with Sea Organ to the left


Croatia Quotes:

“Give me 100,000 Croatian soldiers and I will conquer the entire world.” – Napoleon

“You may boast to strangers, but tell the truth to your own people.” – Croatian Proverb

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Side street in Dubrovnik

“Those who seek paradise on Earth, should come and visit Dubrovnik.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Without suffering, there is no learning.”  – Croatian Proverb

“Morning is smarter than evening.” – Croatian Proverb

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Dubrovnik harbour look-out

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Inside Old Town, Dubrovnik

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Peeking out into the Mediterranean atop Dubrovnik city walls

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High up on Dubrovnik city walls

Europe – Part 7

Countdown: Top 5 Places & Why

#3: Greek Islands – Santorini

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“There is nothing like being on the island of Santorini; it is breathtaking, beautiful, and beyond the breath of human words.” – Author’s quote

 

With a break from our land tour, I got to go to 6 Greek Islands over a 4 day sea excursion. It was my first time on a cruise ship (these things are massive and have almost-anything-containing awesome one could think of.) We started in Athens and went to these following islands: Mykonos; Kusadesi,Turkey; Patmos; Rhodes; Crete & Santorini. Of these, Santorini was my most favorite Greek Island. Mykonos was a close second, as it was very similar to Santorini in its blue and white colors. Overall, I loved the experience of island hopping!

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Santorini hillside

 

Santorini Highlights:

  • Coming into the island of Santorini from the Aegean Sea is magnificent. I got to watch the grand entrance from the top deck of our cruise ship, pressed against the center of the front railing.  It was a very clear, blue-skied day and in the distance a top the mountain all I could see was the color white before my eyes. I thought it was snow and my first thought was, “I should’ve brought my skis to go skiing, how cool would that be?” Oblivious to the summer temperatures, it then dawned on me that this white stuff wasn’t snow; it was the signature white-washed buildings Santorini is famous for
  • Our cruise boat docked in the middle of the ocean & we took a small ferry to land. From there, we got on a Greyhound bus which took us up the mountain on switchbacks roads. Once at the top, we made our way to Oia and passed through the capital, Fina
  • I got to walk along the cliff walls in Oia (pronounced: “ee-uh”) with the piercing blue Aegean sea as our backdrop. The sights and views were like nothing I’ve ever seen
  • We were very fortunate to have seen this island on a perfect day and to see amazing, clear views for miles into the open water’s and beyond
  • The experience was everything how the island is portrayed: Blue and white domed buildings built into the side of a cliff, and of course, an endless view of blue, uninhabited ocean waters set before our eyes
  • Our time ended heading back to the cruise ship during sunset with the beautiful, dawning colors lighting up the red rocks of the mountain. I remember seriously contemplating jumping off the ferry boat into the water and swimming back to land, as this island had so gripped my heart that I did not want to leave

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Entrance into Santorini from the Aegean Sea

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Sunset on Santorini

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Boarding cruise ship at sunset

 

Greece Quotes:

“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.” – Euripides

“Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean sea.” – Nikos Kazantzakis

“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” – Socrates

“I have never come across someone who could inspire more respect than the Greek philosophers.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

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“If in the library of your house you do not have the works of the ancient Greek writers, then you live in a house with no light.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.” – Sir Winston Churchill

“How can any educated person stay away from the Greeks? I have always been far more interested in them than in science.” – Albert Einstein

“Of all peoples the Greeks have dreamt the dream of life best.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Greece is the mother of science and the source of knowledge.” – Moses of Chorene

“I would prefer to be a Greek, rather than a heir apparent of a throne.” – Ludwig I, King of Bavaria

“The ancient Oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks. It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.” – Socrates

“In every island of the Aegean Sea are found abundant traces of a vast prehistoric empire.” – James Theodore Bent

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Europe – Part 6

Countdown: Top 5 Places & Why 

#4: Rome, Italy

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Coliseum exterior

“All roads lead to Rome.” – Chaucer, 1391

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Coliseum interior



City highlights:

  • Coliseum
    – A very cool experience being able to see the historic structure from Gladiator
    – Had a fun time exploring the inside of the amphitheatre & got to see part of the stage and sections underneath
  • Roman Forum
    – Large ancient ruins of architectural remains of what once was the center of public life in Rome
    – Got to walk on the roads where these greats walked: Julius Caesar, Maximus Decimus Meridius & Marcus Aeralius
    – Had an awesome tour guide; she was passionate and extremely knowledgeable about this type of history, and with a Master’s in Classical History she brought Rome to life!
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  • Trevi Fountain
    – People from all over the world come to see this famous landmark
    – Is one of the most famous fountains in the world & an estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day
    – The big idea: Make a wish and throw a coin in your right hand over your left shoulder into the water & one day it may come true
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  • The Vatican
    – Sistine Chapel: a huge room, full of extraordinary painting’s, which houses some of Michaelangelo’s most famous works, not to mention the ceiling masterpiece he painted (which took over 4 years to complete)
    – St. Peter’s Basilica: got to walk through this Late Renaissance church & has a very large square outside surrounded by numerous columns (colonnades)
    – Vatican Museum: contains sculptures and other famous art works from the Renaissance era
  • Spanish Steps
    – A cool looking design and is apparently the widest staircase in Europe

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Outside Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel

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St. Peter’s Square with St. Peter’s Basilica & Sistine Chapel in background

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Overlooking St. Peter’s Square from St. Peter’s Basilica



Other quotes on Rome:

“While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand; When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls – the World.” – Lord Byron

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” – Proverb

“Every one soon or late comes round by Rome.” – Robert Browning

“Rome was not built in a day.” – Jean de La Fontaine

“I came, I saw, I conquered. [Latin: Veni, vidi, vici.]” – Julius Caesar

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus, Gladiator

“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” – Emperor Augustus Caesar

“Her smile, I’m sure, burnt Rome to the ground.” – Mark Z. Danielewski

“In Rome it seems as if there were so many things which are more wanted in the world than pictures.” – George Eliot

“Civis Romanus sum.” (I am a Roman citizen) – Cicero

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
– Marcus Aurelius

Europe – Part 5

Countdown: Top 5 Places & Why

#5: Paris, France

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Eiffel Tower

“Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn

City highlights:

  • Eiffel Tower
    – Is an enormous, bronze statue
    – Took elevator up to first deck & took stairs the rest of the way to the top
    – There are 3 platforms
    – The 2nd observatory deck offers the best view of the city
    – It is, of course, definitely a tourist haven but is a must-see when visiting this iconic city
  • The Louvre
    – One ginormous museum with 3 separate wings
    – It would take 1 full year to go through and read/see everything the museum has to offer
    – Has a really cool entrance: a glass pyramid
    – Got to see the Mona Lisa and other famous art pieces while exploring the museum with a family friend I met up with while there

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The Louvre

  • Arc de Triomphe
    – An insane 8 lane traffic circle
    – It really is a  crazy intersection; an accident happens there every 15 min’s (our tour bus driver actually sped up into the traffic circle!! And we didn’t get smoked)
    – You have to go underground in order to get to the top and once through there are some really sweet views to be seen of this magnificent city
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
    – Didn’t get to go…guess I’ll just have to come back another time
    – We only had one day to explore 4 of Paris’ top sites and we batted 0.750IMG_1378

View of city from the Eiffel Towel

Other Paris quotes:

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”
– Thomas Jefferson

To know Paris is to know a great deal.
– Henry Miller

London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation.
– G. K. Chesterson

There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here, and if it became worse and harder even – the French air clears up the brain and does good – a world of good.
– Vincent Willem van Gogh

The chief danger about Paris is that it is such a strong stimulant.
– T.S. Eliot

Europe – Part 4

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At the top of Mt. Pilatus; Lucerne, Switzerland

“People don’t take trips . . . trips take people.”
John Steinbeck

A Collection of My Learning’s:

  • People are people, wherever you go
    – Each person has the same needs as I do (need for acceptance, belonging, to be apart of something bigger than themselves, need to be heard and understood)
    – Everyone feels the same emotions as I do (happy, sad, frustrated, excited, stressed, curious, & the list goes on)
  • It’s fun meeting different people from other countries, ethnicities and cultures
    – This experience has opened my mind to see how very different people are (how they think, the decisions they make, their personalities, values etc) and there really is no one exactly like me anywhere in the world
    – Each of the 19 countries I visited had something different to offer; a distiguishing feature that separated one country from another & would leave a lasting impression on my memory
  • It was so fun always being on the move and seeing new sights and new places every day
    – I thought this fast pace would overwhelm me, but I came to realize how much I enjoyed this as I got to see and do a million things a day for 42 straight days (Sound intense? That’s because it is!)

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Bike riding in Amsterdam, Holland

  • I needed downtime in order to go at this pace for an extended period of time (I craved “introvert time” – time to be alone by myself –  to re-gain my energy in order to do it all over again the next day). I would do this by:
    – Not always going out each night but having intentional “down time”
    – Going to bed early on some nights
    – Sleeping on the bus during travel days
  • Taking lots of pictures
    – I took over 7,000 pictures on my point-&-shoot digital camera & have gone thru them all 3 times since returning home
    – I have condensed them into smaller, more manageable amounts for my own and other people’s realistic viewing pleasures
  • I became a sponge and took everything in
    – Via tour guides
    – Watching other people/tourists and how they travel, sightsee & do things
    – Asked lots of question’s (not to be annoying but because I am curious)
  • Kept a travel journal and wrote in it each day to record what I did/saw (see my last post, Europe – Part 3, for more on this)
    – Did this so I would always have a written account of what I did for each day to be able to recall and re-live this experience anytime I want to

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle

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Guess where this is!

Europe – Part 3

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Ephesus library; Ephesus, Turkey

“Just go.” – Anonymous

Okay, so you’ve decided you want to travel and see the world. Whether this is just a dream (for now), or a commitment you’ve made, here are some practical tips and fun suggestions that helped me when I was preparing for my big trip.

Questions to ask yourself (part of the planning and prep stage):

  1. Who will I go with? (solo or with a friend/group of friends)
  2. What will I be doing? (get your itinerary ready ahead of time)
  3. Where will I travel to? (name the countries you will visit)
  4. When will I go on this awesome trip? (warmest months to go, high/low season)
  5. Why do I want to travel? (what’s my purpose)
  6. How am I travelling? (tour group, backpacking etc)

“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau

Essentials for the trip:

– Passport (check to make sure yours isn’t up for renewal, as passports expire every 5 years, and that it will be valid for the entire length of your trip – I had to get mine renewed)
– Visa’s (bring these if needed)
– Immunization shots (there’s a great clinic I went to over in the Market Mall Professional building, called Odyssey Travel & Tropical Medicine Clinic; it was a great deal and got me all the necessary shots I needed & the people there were great)
– Healthcare coverage (I got mine through AMA and the travel agency I went through)
– Go to your bank and convert your money to the currency you’ll be travelling so you will have money when you land in that country (I would recommend going to your bank 2-3 weeks ahead of your departure date to get all the bills and coins you need)

As a heads up, the best time to travel Europe, according to European expert, Rick Steves, is May, June, and September as the weather is still warm but not scorching hot and humid.

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St. Mark’s Square; Venice, Italy

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
– Benjamin Franklin

Must-Bring items I brought on my trip (and would recommend to you):

  1. iPod (loaded with your favourite music)
  2. 1-2 books to read and stay entertained / somewhat educated
  3. Travel journal & pen(s) – Tip: Jot down in list-form the main events you did and places you saw FOR EACH DAY of your travels.
    Reason: So you can remember what you did & saw many years from now.
    Take this seriously and be disciplined.
    How I did it: On the tour bus during travel days I would update my travel journal while “on the road”. I would do anywhere from 2-3 days at a time. You will forget if don’t capture this with good ‘ole fashion pen and paper, as you are seeing SO MUCH all at once, all the time!
  4. Money belt (To avoid pick-pocketing. You would be surprised how common this is in Europe. I wore mine and this never happened to me.)
  5. Backpack to put essential items in: iPod, camera, food, drinks etc  (I left mine on the bus to avoid having to carry a honking bag around all the time)

Other tips: (free of charge, you’re welcome)

– Go to a travel agency to help with the details of your trip planning (airline booking, events and excursions booking, extra brochures/info pamphlets for your destination…including pictures to INSPIRE you!!) I went to Marlin Travels and they were excellent! I received awesome service & very helpful tips.
– Check your bank account…can you actually afford this? Do you have the money for this? (If not, you may need to come up with some “creative financing” to get you there!!)

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
– St. Augustine

IMG_3967Acropolis (meaning, “high point of city”); Athens, Greece